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Dark Moon (Chapter Six)

I couldn't tell Nic. He didn't believe in magic. He'd take me to the nearest hospital, lock me up and throw away the key. Then we'd have real trouble, since my medication had blown up with the compound.

Me, locked inside, with the full moon less than a week away. Yeah, trouble. However, that was the least of my worries at the moment.

We reached the shed; Nic inspected the place with typical FBI precision. No one was inside. No one had tampered with the ATV.

"I'll drive," 1 said.

"I don't think so."

"You don't get to think. I know where we're going."

"I could figure it out," he grumbled, but he climbed on behind me.

I could tell by the tenseness of Nic's thighs against mine, and the tiny starts he was unable to stop every time the ATV tipped a little too far to one side, that he wasn't used to riding them, and he didn't care for anyone else to be in control.

We reached the highway, a loose terra for any paved road in the vicinity, and I took off at the fastest clip the ATV would allow – about thirty miles per hour. Driving at top speed without a helmet wasn't my idea of fun, even though I had nothing to fear from a head injury. Nic, however, did.

"It's going to take us two hours or more to get to town," he shouted.

"Got a better idea?"

His silence was answer enough.

We traveled at a pace slower than the average wolf, which could run forty miles per hour on a bad day.

Super-wolves, in other words, lycanthropes, could top that speed with ease.

As I drove I considered the icon in my pocket. Was the totem a clue? A threat? An accident? I needed to show the talisman to Will Cadotte, our expert on Native American mysticism. Conveniently, he had gone to Wisconsin with Edward.

Had the thing truly growled? I would have said no, except Nic had heard it, too.

I'd never observed any supernatural behavior from the black totem, but that didn't mean there hadn't been any.

Jessie McQuade, a J-S agent and former police officer, swore she'd seen the totem move on its own.

Who was I to say she was nuts?

We continued in silence for close to an hour. Talking was pointless with the roar of the motor and the thunder of the wind. But I didn't need words to hear Nic loud and clear. The press of his thighs wasn't the only thing I felt.

He'd missed me, in more ways than one.

His palms rode my waist; his thumbs slid under my suit coat and toyed with the skin just above my panty hose. His breath teased the hair that had fallen loose from my customary French twist.

I had to be honest with him. What had been between us once could never be again, despite the treacherous response of my body to his. I had too many secrets I couldn't share. Too much work that had to be done. Too many monsters that wanted me dead.

I tensed, half-expecting him to cup my breasts, then latch his mouth onto my neck and suckle. Legs wide as I straddled the seat, the wind shot up my skirt, stirring me where I needed no help being stirred. His fingertips grazed the swell of my rear.

"Nic," I said. Protest, plea – I wasn't sure. Didn't matter. The wind flung the word into the night.

Snow began to fall – thick, fluffy flakes that would soon obscure the road. I had to concentrate. We needed to reach a town before the storm hit, or worse. I was already half-frozen and I was certain Nic was, too.

But it was impossible to think as Nic's hand slid across my skin, palm warm, hard, flat against my belly.

I glanced down. My skirt was hiked to my hips, and the sight of my stocking-clad legs, my white cotton briefs, his sun-browned hand and callused fingers, excited me so much that 1 did nothing when his middle finger slid lower and stroked me just once. Lucky no one was on the highway except us.

Or so I thought.

I lifted my gaze, then swerved to avoid the huge black wolf in the middle of the road. The right wheel slipped off the pavement, and we were airborne.

Providence was on our side, and we were thrown clear. Most ATV injuries are the result of the machine falling on top of the riders. As it was, I landed on my shoulder and something crunched.

Ignoring the pain, I scrambled to my feet, searching frantically for Nic. I found him at the edge of the tree line. He wasn't moving.

The wolf swung his head toward me. Light gray, human eyes shone in a feral face. "Billy," I murmured.

I should have known he hadn't died. Guys like him never did. It would take something worse than a firebomb to put an end to Billy Bailey.

But where had he been? Had it taken him some time to heal his injuries, then dig his way out of the rubble?

What about the others? Had they survived, as well?

I strained my ears but heard only the wind, sniffed the air and caught nothing but the scent of snow and crazy Billy.

Either the rest of my basement wolves had found freedom, then scattered, or they were ashes and Billy was a lot more powerful than I'd thought. And wasn't that just special?

Billy's head cocked; his tongue lolled, almost as if he were laughing. Hell, he probably was.

I fingered the gun in my pocket. I could put every bullet into Billy, and it wouldn't slow him down. If I stayed in this form, he'd kill me – if I was lucky – then move on to Nic.

I was going to have to shift.

However, such things took time, and at mid-shift I'd be defenseless. Billy had no scruples. He'd wait until the worst possible moment, then attack. Nevertheless, I had to take the risk, hope my changing at all would confuse him long enough for me to assume another form.

I managed to kick off my shoes – I hated it when my paws burst through them – but I didn't have the chance to remove anything else. Not that I'd strip in front of Billy even if I had a week.

As I lifted my face, snowflakes brushed my cheeks, stuck to my eyelashes, prickled my nose. I pushed aside the sensory distractions and thought of the moon.

If it had been full I wouldn't have had to try. Without the round silver disc that pulled like the ebb and flow of the tide, the transformation was a bit harder, especially for those with stunted imaginations.

I bet Billy had had one helluva time getting furry tonight.

He growled, low in his throat. I was up to something, but he didn't know what. Pretty soon he'd get sick of wondering, come over here and kick my ass. With me still a woman, and him already a beast, he'd have no trouble at all.

Staring at the black velvet sky, I envisioned the cool metallic white of the moon spilling across my face. I smelled the wind, the trees, the earth. Night. The totem in my pocket shimmied, and my favorite suit split at the seams.

The shifting of bones, the curving of spine, usually produced agony. Going from bipedal to quadrapedal wasn't supposed to feel good. My skin would bum when the fur came. My fingers and toes always ached as they sprouted claws. My face hurt as my nose and my mouth melded into a snout.

I loathed getting furry – always had, maybe I always would if I never discovered a cure – but pain was the least of it. I hated being covered with hair, sprouting a tail. The drooling, the panting, the howling, and I never could get the dirt out from under my fingernails. Becoming a werewolf was hell on a manicure.

But tonight, the transformation was painless. Tonight I thought about being a wolf, and suddenly I was.

Billy yelped. I was the fastest changer in the West. A damned werewolf savant. Something peculiar was going on, but I didn't have time to figure out what.

Werewolves not only have human eyes, they possess human intelligence. I knew what I had to do and why, so without giving Billy time to think, I charged. This wasn't fun and games but a fight to the death.

Billy would come after me, and he'd keep on coming until he had what he wanted.

Me.

I'd rather be dead than Billy Bailey's sex slave. That knowledge gave me an edge. I hit him hard, and he tumbled onto his back.

Either confusion had slowed his reactions, or I'd suddenly become faster than the average werewolf.

Maybe both. My teeth grazed Billy's throat before he sent me flying.

I landed on the same shoulder that had hit the ground when I'd flown off the ATV, and I whimpered.

Without human blood, I wouldn't heal completely tonight, though just becoming a wolf would improve any injury faster than it was possible to explain.

Billy struck me broadside before I could roll onto all fours. I slammed into the dirt hard enough to make my ears ring. My head ached, and I had a difficult time focusing.

He could have killed me then, if he hadn't been an insane sadomasochist. Instead of going for my jugular, he drew blood from my belly, and then licked it away.

Disgust flowed through me, followed closely by anger. Using my legs, my claws, I threw him free, then I did what he hadn't. Jumping on top, I latched onto Billy's throat and pulled.

Though I tried to get out of the way, blood sprayed my face and chest. I scuttled backward, not even waiting to see Billy's human eyes go wolf as he died.

I shifted into a woman more quickly than I ever had before. My clothes a torn tangle, I still managed to cover myself adequately. Scooping a handful of snow, I let it melt in my palm so I could scrub away some of the blood and the dirt.

Remembering the slash to my stomach, I lifted my suit. Nothing. Frowning, I rolled my shoulder. Not a twinge.

Had the talisman granted fast healing powers along with swift changing ability? Seemed so.

I could get used to this.

I hurried to Nic, kneeling next to him as his eyes opened, crossed, then focused on my face. "I saw a wolf."

"I know. I almost hit him."

"No." He reached up and tugged my hair, loose now and swirling around my shoulders. "With fur like this and…" He frowned. "Your eyes."

I kept my face neutral, even as my heart threatened to choke me. Nevertheless, when I spoke, my voice was as cool as the breeze.

"You must have bumped your head a lot harder than I thought."

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